5G Rollout Must be a National Priority for the Country: Mukesh Ambani

Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani called on the government to urgently facilitate rolling out 5G networks, besides rapid migration of 2G users to 4G and then to the next gen technology. He also pushed for subsidizing handsets for select groups by utilizing the telecom department's ₹55,000-crore Universal Services Obligation Fund.

Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Mittal, in turn, said the time had come for telecom industry players to collaborate even while competing amongst each other, especially as India braces for 5G and prepares to develop 6G standards. He urged the government to reduce litigation in the sector while Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla said further steps to ring in ease of doing business coupled with banking sector support would boost industry strength and ensure India remained at the cutting edge of global tech trends.

The three leading top industrialists, also amongst the most recognisable faces of the country’s telecom sector, were speaking at the India Mobile Congress virtual event Wednesday.

Ambani is confident that India will not only succeed in containing any future Covid wave, but also stage a strong economic comeback. “During Covid, when the chips were down, it’s chipsets that kept us going, and it was technology that kept lives and livelihoods afloat when the lockdowns rocked our boats.”

ABG chairman KM Birla said the mobile industry would play a vital role in realizing India's vision of a $5 trillion economy by 2025, in which $1 trillion would be a contribution from the digital services economy.

Ambani added that roll out of 5G should be “India’s national priority” and the country must complete the migration from “2G to 4G to 5G at the earliest (as) to keep millions of Indians at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid confined to 2G is to deprive them of the benefits of the digital revolution”.

Such a scenario, though, could hit legacy rivals Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, who have nearly 280 million 2G users that are still crucial to their revenue streams.

Mittal, one of the first private investors in India’s telecom industry, responded: “We need to fight hard and compete in the market, but equally, we need to collaborate on areas such as fibre and towers so that through sharing our infrastructure, we avoid duplication and thus lower cost structures and provide digital services at the lowest tariffs across the world".

The chairman of RIL, which in partnership with Google launched a budget 4G smartphone, JioPhone Next, also underlined the importance of cheaper devices to bring in digital inclusion.

Ambani pitched for using the USOF corpus—estimated at roughly ₹55,000 crore—to subsidize smartphones for select groups to ring in the digital revolution. Each telco contributes 5% of its adjusted gross revenue towards the USOF, which was set up to expand telecom networks into rural areas.

Mittal called on the government to cut litigation in the sector, which he said, “would release the energy of the industry in the gainful and rightful way”.

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